From Scott Carlberg

Some nuclear plants in the Carolinas will apply for second license extensions as one part of an overall strategy to lower carbon emissions.

Duke Energy’s new release: “’Our nuclear power plants have safely and reliably provided electricity to our Carolinas customers for decades,’ said Preston Gillespie, Duke Energy’s chief nuclear officer. ‘These plants generate clean and cost-effective power, provide thousands of well-paying jobs, and produce substantial economic benefits for the Carolinas. Renewing the licenses of these plants is important for our customers, communities and environment.’”

Oconee plant, Upstate SC

Nuclear plants safely generate electricity without producing carbon emissions. ECC looked at the viewpoint of the Union of Concerned Scientists about nuclear energy. It said, “Swiftly decarbonizing the electric sector, one of the largest sources of US carbon emissions, is among the most cost-effective steps for limiting heat-trapping gas emissions. …Yet limiting the worst effects of climate change may also require other low- or no-carbon energy solutions, including nuclear power. … Nuclear power produces very few lifecycle carbon emissions.”

The Duke Energy announcement is one way to keep carbon emissions in check in the Carolinas. That is positive. But utilities in states with deregulated markets are going in the other direction on nuclear power.

The same week as Duke Energy announced its plans, energy company Exelon closed the Three Mile Island (TMI) plant in Pennsylvania, a plant known for its 1979 problem at Unit 2, but the Unit 1 has since set safety and reliability records. TMI unit 1 had operated since 1974, and its operating license was renewed in 2009.  Even though the unit was licensed to operate until 2034, the company found it could not compete with fracked natural gas in a deregulated market.

News stories ECC surveyed fail to mention the amount of carbon-free power that will have to be replaced with the shutdown of Three Mile Island. That kind of fact does not generate headlines.

Duke Energy noted that its nuclear fleet made, “more than 72 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and avoided the release of about 54 million tons of carbon dioxide – equivalent to keeping more than 10 million passenger cars off the road.”

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission notes: “The decision to seek license renewal rests entirely with nuclear power plant owners. This choice is typically based on the plant’s economic situation and whether it can meet NRC requirements. Each power reactor is licensed based on a specific set of requirements, depending primarily on its design. This set of requirements is called the plant’s ‘licensing basis.’ The license renewal review process provides continued assurance that the current licensing basis will maintain an acceptable level of safety for the period of extended operation.”

Harris plant, outside Raleigh

Duke Energy lists its nuclear plants:

Brunswick, Southport, N.C. – Brunswick County. 1,870 MW

Catawba*, York, S.C. – York County. 2,310 MW

Harris, New Hill, N.C. – Wake County. 964 MW

McGuire, Huntersville, N.C. – Mecklenburg County. 2,316 MW

Oconee. Seneca, S.C. – Oconee County.   2,554 MW

Robinson, Hartsville, S.C. – Darlington County. 741 MW

* Catawba is jointly owned by North Carolina Municipal Power Agency Number One, North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation, Piedmont Municipal Power Agency and Duke Energy


Feature image: McGuire plant near Charlotte. All photos from Duke Energy image gallery